Authors: Robin Alexander
By Robin Alexander
© 2013 by Robin Alexander
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
First ebook Edition: 2013
This ebook Is Published By
Walker, LA USA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Executive Editor: Tara Young
Cover design by:
For Becky, my favorite scaredy cat.
As always, I humbly thank Tara Young, the comma terminator, and my editorial team. They’ve trained me well and have stopped using the stun gun. I’m told my hair will grow back.
I’d also like to give a shout out to the chicken that jumped into a Jeep with Becky and gave me the idea for this story.
Quinn Scott chewed the inside of her cheek as she stood in the only open checkout lane of Sommers Grocery. Glenda Percy idly ran items over the scanner as she and Judy Tauzin chattered about how risqué the new cheerleader uniforms for the local high school team were. Quinn suppressed a sigh as she set a bag of tomatoes and a gallon of milk on the end of the conveyor belt.
“If I had a daughter on that squad, I’d be downright furious,” Glenda said as she waved a package of pasta. “Girls nowadays wear those push-up bras, and those children are positively popping out of the tops of those uniforms. It’s no wonder the boys lost the game. Not one of them could concentrate with all of that gyrating flesh on the sidelines. Tess Lemoine should be run out of town for choosing that trashy garb.”
Quinn’s niece, Hailey, was on the cheer squad, and Quinn had seen the uniforms. She found them no more revealing than when her sister, Dawn, had been a cheerleader many years ago. The two women squawking like wet hens would not ask her opinion, even though they were aware that she was standing nearby. Glenda did make eye contact with Quinn a couple of times and seemed to move even slower as she continued to pontificate.
“I tell you, this country is going straight to hell in a handbasket. There’s no more decency, no sense of propriety.” Glenda glanced at Quinn haughtily. “Even in our small town, perversion has taken a foothold.”
“Hey, Grant, how about ringing me up?” Quinn called out as the store owner walked by. “My milk’s starting to sour and so is my mood. Gabby’s done broke out into a sermon.” Quinn grinned at the indignant snort from Glenda as she gathered her things and moved to the next register.
Grant hid his smile as he rang up Quinn’s purchases and spoke lowly. “You’re the only one ballsy enough to call her that to her face.”
“I’m not afraid of her.” Quinn glanced over at Glenda, who was giving her the stink eye. “If people would stop worrying about what she has to say, she’d lose all her power.”
Everyone feared Glenda aka Gabby Percy, the town crier. There was only one grocery store, and Glenda kept an inventory of what everyone purchased. That was how everybody knew that Ken Dorsey drank a lot, Barbara Green had bought a home pregnancy test, and Irma Sandifer had problems with gas because she bought Beano by the bushel. But Glenda took it one step further; she was not above peeking in a few windows to maintain her position as a woman in the know. That was how Quinn was outed as a lesbian; she and Glenda were not friends in any sense of the word, but Glenda dropped by one evening—at least that was Glenda’s story. She’d found the one window where Quinn had forgotten to close the blinds and got an eyeful of Quinn and her date enjoying a romantic evening. The next day, everyone in Cypress Glade got an earful.
For this reason, Quinn did her shopping at the pharmacy for small items, and every two weeks, she drove to the next town to buy her groceries. She had fantasized so often about bitch slapping Glenda into another ZIP code, she was afraid she’d really do it if given the chance. If it had not been for Dawn’s request for milk and tomatoes, she would not’ve darkened the doorstep of Sommers Grocery.
“Hey, I’ve got a bathroom faucet that’s leaking. Do you think you could take a look at it for me?” Grant asked. “I really don’t want to change the whole thing out if I don’t have to.”
“Yeah, give me a call Monday or when you can get away from the store. Jacob or I will check it out.” Quinn held out a twenty, and Grant waved it off.
“You didn’t let me pay you when you fixed the kitchen sink.”
“Because it was only a washer.” Quinn continued to hold out the bill.
Grant pushed her hand away. “You stopped Mary from griping at me endlessly. That’s worth a lot more than a few tomatoes and milk. You go on, Quinn, and enjoy your weekend.”
“Thanks, Grant,” Quinn said with a smile. Glenda glared at her as she walked out the door, and Quinn shot her the finger.
“How much do you love me?” Dawn asked as Quinn walked into her sister’s kitchen.
“I picked up your milk and tomatoes, don’t ask me to do anything else.” Quinn put the milk in the fridge and grabbed one of Buddy’s spiked lemonades. “What’d you break?”
“Nothing.” Dawn tried her best to look innocent. She brushed a lock of blond hair from her perfectly made-up face. There was a ketchup stain on her crisply starched shirt; a French fry was stuck to her slacks.
“Did you already eat?” Quinn looked her older sister over. “I thought you invited me to dinner.”
Dawn shook her head as she plucked the fry from her pants with a look of disgust. “I fed Landon, so Buddy could take him to help set up for the game tonight. They’re father and son bonding, and I told Buddy if he didn’t get Landon out of my hair for a while, I’d set the recliner on fire.”
“Aren’t you going?” Quinn took a seat at the kitchen table.
“Yes,” Dawn said with a labored sigh. “I’m exhausted. The last thing I want to do is go sit in the stands and watch football. Frankly, Hailey doesn’t want me or Buddy there. It’s not cool for a cheerleader to have the parental units on site, but we go anyway.”
Quinn grinned. “Business must be picking up if you’re tired. You must’ve skipped your afternoon nap.”
Dawn ignored the playful dig. Quinn had caught her a few times sprawled out on the sofa in the tiny real estate office. “I closed a deal on the house over on Pickett, and I rented the Meyers place.”
“Well, that’s awesome.” Quinn raised her bottle in salute.
“And that’s where the favor comes in,” Dawn said with a sheepish smile.
“You need me to replace a faucet or repair something?”
Dawn shook her head. “This has nothing to do with plumbing. Have you ever heard of Blake Taylor?”
“No, is he new in town?”
“She.” Dawn took a seat next to Quinn, her smile wide. “She’s a famous writer, and she’s who rented the Meyers place. She’s also a lesbian.”
“Did she come here that way, or did she suddenly fall ill with it? I haven’t had time to spike her water yet as Glenda claims I do.”
Dawn made a face. “You’re still pissed about the whole Alan Slater thing.”
“Hell, yeah, I’m pissed. Glenda nearly had me lynched when that boy came out.” Quinn set her bottle down with a thud. “I’d maybe talked to that kid twice, and it was just a ‘hey, how you doing,’ yet everyone held me responsible for his gayness.”
“Not everyone,” Dawn said gently. “Not everyone thinks the way Glenda does.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” Quinn propped her chin in her hand. “I wish Jacob didn’t need me. I’d leave this town in a cloud of dust. Of course, we both know that’s a lie. I’ll be stuck here in purgatory for eternity because I don’t have the guts to leave again.”
“We both need you.” Dawn put a hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “I really need you right now. This favor is a lot to ask, but I kinda…well, I made a promise before I actually thought about what I was committing to.”
“That sounds so ominous,” Quinn said as she suppressed a yawn.
“Getting back to Blake, she’s here to work on her next book. She writes horror,” Dawn said excitedly. “There’s been like three or four movies adapted from her work. She’s a celebrity.”
Quinn waved her hands around. “Wow. Now what does this have to do with me?” she asked flatly.
Dawn’s brow furrowed as she thought for a moment. “She…um…well, she doesn’t drive, and she needs someone to show her around town.”
“That will take all of ten minutes.”
Dawn took Quinn’s hand. “She needs a friend. Her agent said she’s super shy, and you know who hard it is to be gay in Cypress Glade.”
Quinn stared at Dawn. “Just what exactly have you volunteered me for?”
“Her agent is offering a thousand bucks a month for someone ‘trustworthy’ to take Blake to the places she needs to go. Cassidy—that’s the agent—says Blake is somewhat of a shut-in, so she won’t really ask to do a lot. Sounds like an easy gig to me.”
“It’s a cute two-bedroom house that sits just off the highway. There are rows of pecan trees in back. It has a big wraparound porch and a swing.”
“Oh, honey, it sounds absolutely horrible. I think you should come home right now. I can’t believe that Cassidy Spencer put you in such a desolate place. Surely, she’s aware of your special needs.”
Blake sank down on the sofa. “I need this.”
“No, you don’t,” her mother argued. “I don’t care what that therapist said, you should come home and find a new doctor.”
What Blake couldn’t admit to her mother was that she’d suffered three anxiety attacks since her arrival the day before. Each time, she grabbed whatever she could carry and got as far as the front porch. There was no car waiting to take her to safety, but there was a bird on a branch that was close by, and it stared at her menacingly. Blake had dropped the items she carried and scrambled back into the house. She then employed the tactics that Dr. Kieslowski taught her. She examined all the reasons she’d come there in the first place and the rewards if she could stick it out.
“I have to do something to break this block. I haven’t written anything in months.”
“Well, I don’t see how you can possibly concentrate there. It sounds positively dismal. There are probably coyotes or bears. Whatever you do, don’t put your trash out until the day they’re supposed to pick it up. Are the doors locked? The windows?”
“Yes,” Blake said and quickly looked at her phone. “Everything is locked up tight. Mom, I have to go. Cassidy is calling on the other line.”
“I know the doctor and everyone else says we’re not supposed to talk, but if you need me, call. I’ll be down there in a flash to get you. Tell your agent she needs to relocate you to civilization.”
“I will, love you.” Blake switched lines. “Hey, Cassidy.”
“All settled in?”
“Yes. Do you know if there are coyotes around here?” Blake asked as she got up and peeked out the window.
Cassidy ignored the question. “Are you writing?”
Blake looked at her latest renderings still on the screen of her laptop.
There are bugs, and they’re loud. Country life is deplorable. Who in their right mind would want to live in a place like this? There’s a noise…what the hell is that?
“Some,” Blake said and turned away. “I thought solitude would be helpful, but I find it distracting. There are things in the night that make horrendous noises. And…the door in the hallway rattles…there could be someone in the basement.”
“Blake, houses in South Louisiana don’t have basements, that’s a linen closet. The only things in there are your sheets and blankets,” Cassidy said evenly. “Have a look while I’m on the phone with you.”
“Is it deep enough for someone—”
“No!” Cassidy cleared her throat. “You’d be lucky to hide an infant in there, it’s very shallow. Open the door, please.”
Blake approached cautiously and stared at the handle, her hand hovering near it.
“You’re my best client. Do you honestly think I’d let something happen to you? Cypress Glade is a quiet, peaceful little town. The police chief lives right across the street. You couldn’t be in a safer location if you were in the witness protection program.” There was an edge to Cassidy’s tone that she could not seem to suppress. “Open that door and look inside.”
Blake inhaled sharply, gave the handle a yank, then jumped back. Just as Cassidy said, the closet was small. There were only shelves filled with linens, no space for a human to hide. She laughed nervously.
“See? There’s nothing to be afraid of. I have some very good news. A woman is going to drop by today and introduce herself. I’ve arranged for her to show you around, and she’ll take you out to Oak Alley Plantation. Just relax and take in all that history. Inspiration will come.”
“Who is she? Did you do a background check?” Blake asked nervously as she backed away from the closet and sat on the sofa.
“She comes highly recommended, and she’s the sister of the real estate agent. You really liked Dawn, remember?”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll like or trust her sister.”
“She’s also a lesbian,” Cassidy blurted out as her patience dwindled. “Haven’t I always taken care of you?”
“You have,” Blake said with a nod.
“This experience is important, remember that. You have a fabulous career, and you want to keep it that way, right?”
“Yes…right.” Blake blew out a breath and ran a hand through her hair. “When will she be arriving?”
“At noon. Her name is Quinn Scott. I have to go now, but I’ll check on you this evening.”
“Okay,” Blake said nervously. “Bye.”
Cassidy dropped her phone on her desk and sank deeply into her chair. She represented a troop of authors, but none of them sold as well as Blake Taylor, and none of them gave her half as much trouble. Authors were a funny breed who lived inside their heads with imaginary people and creatures. Some—the lucky ones—balanced both worlds with ease, then there was Blake. In her mind, something malevolent lurked around every corner; a box of fries had even been suspect once. Blake tested Cassidy’s patience like no other, but then Blake made the money like no other.
Cassidy turned and pulled a book from the shelf behind her desk.
Shadows Most Unkind
, Blake’s latest was a year old. It had topped the charts in horror and stayed there for months before the book began its descent. It would fall faster without a promise of something else in the works. Blake’s writer’s block unnerved her. That was why Cassidy jumped on Dr. Kieslowski’s suggestion that Blake relocate. It was a hard sell, but after months of gentle cajoling, she convinced Blake to leave her apartment in New York and settle in Louisiana because it was purported to be one of the most haunted states in the country. She hoped that Blake would once again find her muse.
Cassidy opened the back jacket and stared at her tiny cash cow. Blake Taylor wasn’t the queen of horror, but she was certainly a part of the royal court. She stared back at Cassidy from the photo, half of her face in shadow, arms folded over a black crew neck sweater. A slight underbite made the lines of her jaw look sharp. Dark bangs fanned across her forehead, just shy of covering the blue eye that the right amount of light fell upon. The divot in her top lip was pronounced and formed the shape of the letter M. When Blake smiled slightly, as she had done in the photo, it made her look downright devious—the perfect representation of a horror writer. No one had to know that Blake was afraid of her own shadow, and Cassidy worked hard to keep it that way.